What is your life’s purpose?
Very simply my purpose in life is to raise my daughters. For vocation what I do in pursuit of that goal is play around with real food to develop and discover appealing texture, flavor, and value.
How are you living your purpose?
With the company I launched in 2002, CakeLove, I’m actively engaged in creating new recipes and products.
I have a knack for cooking and really enjoy the myriad of details required to master with baking. When I can bake from scratch and follow my gut, the outcomes are new takes on classics or new products altogether.
I carve out time and go to the bakery to do R&D and then push it to a network of friends, colleagues, and critics to give me feedback on the experiments. I love and hate research sessions at the bakery. For one thing, the only time I can really be alone is when there’s not even a chance of someone else coming in. That’s like 4:00am on a Saturday or Sunday. Yeah, it’s just me and the mixers, whipping up new stuff that sometimes hits it out of the park and sometimes totally strikes out. Not everything is a winner. Once I tried a healthy breakfast cake, something with grains and fiber that could double as a muffin or a morning cake. It was interesting, but just never came together. Sometimes baking should just be what it is, a sweet treat.
Today CakeLove is only sold as cake in a jar. Our product comes in different sizes and flavors, but the idea is all about a personal layer cake you can hold in your hand and eat directly form the jar! We developed the concept as a way to help our customers who asked for an easier way to carry cupcakes—and who admitted they really just want to buy our cream cheese frosting! It took a while to figure out a system to serve both needs and then build a product line around it, but now we have and I’m thrilled with the result.
After years of operating brick & mortar shops where my time got sucked up managing the day to day of staff and equipment, I realized I was really unhappy owning a small chain of retail stores. There was no time or space to be creative. Now that we operate out of one location making products that someone else focuses on selling, I can really get creative to dream up new and exciting products and ways to deliver it to the consumer. Sounds a bit wonky but I love it. Most of what we make in the CakeLove brand is served on airlines. We service Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia and have been on board Norwegian Air. You can find CakeLove at regional grocers like Whole Foods (mid-Atlantic), Big Y (Mass-Conn), and locally around DC at Glen’s Garden Market, Market at River Falls, Walgreens, and select Marriott hotels. Better yet, shop on our own website.
We have two additional product lines. Don’t Forget Cake! is a fun line of big, family size cake jars. It launched at Walmart across the south from Georgia to New Mexico in March 2018 and will be available in mid-Atlantic regional grocers later this year. Spark Bites are a line of multigrain energy snacks. They’re our answer to a healthy snack, baked from scratch of course, packed with healthy, whole grains and superfoods. Spark Bites are something that I’ve taken a super passionate approach to. I don’t even mind experimenting at 4am sometimes just to tweak the texture, flavor, or energy buzz even a smidgen. Spark Bites are only available at a few local shops in the DC area (Dawson’s Market, Market at River Falls, Marriott Gaylord) but we’ve just launched limited line in January in “beta” mode and will fully launch a rebranded version in late summer/fall 2018.
I’m very proud of the four cookbooks I’ve written and, believe it or not, refer to them often when baking at home. For some things I do it entirely from my head—like cookies or cobblers—but when I’m mixing pancakes and keeping pace with the morning routine to make it out the door on time, there’s no fussing around. Anyway, I find myself using CakeLove in the Morning: Recipes for Muffins, Scones, Pancakes, Waffles, Biscuits, Frittatas, and Other Breakfast Treats the most, it’s all about brunch and making mornings happy. There’s also: Cake Love: How to Bake Cakes from Scratch. This is my first book, a tour through the early years of the retail bakery’s cake menu. And: UUnited Cakes of America: Recipes Celebrating Every State, my patriotic take on celebrated desserts we all have in common. Pie Love is the last book and the one I enjoyed the most. I felt a rhythm and a groove in writing it; I think this comes across on the pages. Pies are a lot of fun.
I’m the alpha cook in the house, but not the only one in the kitchen. My girls help me a ton, whether by mixing the batter, calling out when to flip the pancakes, or directing me on what spices and how much to add, or having me as a sous chef when they’re boss. Maybe it’s not surprising since they have open access to cakes and such, but they don’t have much of a sweet tooth. My oldest daughter doesn’t even like cake. And my wife, who is Chinese and immigrated to the US, doesn’t like American sweets. No cakes, nope. My youngest does like cake, in fact we share an affinity for similar foods. We’re known in our house as liking “DC” food while my wife and oldest like Chinese food.
How did you find your purpose?
I was lucky enough to have parents who really supported me from an early age. My mom always said do what you love and the money will come. With his research, my dad showed me what it meant to be quietly dedicated, passionate, and endlessly curious.
Back in fifth grade, I got in trouble for being in a food fight. I think I was an accomplice in starting it actually. No lunchroom for one week was the punishment. Well I lived all of 150 yards from school and going home for lunch was permitted, so I went home for lunch that week…and never really went back to the cafeteria again. At home I had homemade sandwiches with roast turkey and muenster cheese, LTM (lettuce tomato mayo) served on warm toasted Pepperidge farm sandwich bread and cranberry sauce on the side. Or roast beef sandwiches. I remember all of it. At first my mom made them for me, then I began making my own lunch. Soon I was pan frying hot dogs in butter and toasting the Nichols buns because they were so much better warmed in the oven and then crisped in the pan with all of that excess butter. I never really thought about it this way but getting booted from the lunchroom kinda started me down a make-your-own culinary path.
How did that all come together into being a baker? I like to eat and I like to eat food that tastes good and sits well on the tummy. What I’m doing now with my business—offering an indulgent snack and a healthy one fits into my philosophy about food. Eat what you want in moderation and get plenty of exercise.
What advice do you have for purpose seekers?
I think I keep in touch with my purpose by keeping my mind open to listening. In order to listen, it’s important to talk and ask for feedback.
Years ago, we were getting hammered by critics and haters online for a while. I had to do something radical to change the direction of where my business was going. Sure it hurt to read negative stuff about my shops, my staff, or my product, but I wanted and needed to get past that. I order to get good ink on the page, I needed to face the music and ask fans and critics directly what we could do to serve them better.
I believe in listening to others, to hints from the world around me, to the voice inside my head. It is not easy and takes time to gather information to make an informed decision. But as compared to more shooting from the hip or guessing at what needs correcting, it’s almost always a better shot at getting it right.
What resources do you recommend?
I’m a big fan of public radio. I drive a lot and just keep the radio on during the day when I’m not crazy focused on work or family. Shows I find particularly inspiring: On Being (formerly Speaking of Faith), Democracy Now!, BBC Witness.
I also find reading biographies especially informative. I never got to taste his food, but Charlie Trotter’s zeal and passion were always inspiring. Bruce Healy’s The Art of the Cake: Modern French Baking and Decorating was the pivotal cookbook that gave me the knowledge and confidence that I could bake worth building a business around. There are a slew of local chefs in DC who I watched and was inspired by before I opened CakeLove, including Todd Gray, Jeff Tunks and Timothy Dean. Just reading about what they did and said gave me guideposts early on, and I’m grateful for what I learned.
United Cakes of America: Recipes Celebrating Every State
Cake Love: How to Bake Cakes from Scratch
CakeLove in the Morning: Recipes for Muffins, Scones, Pancakes, Waffles, Biscuits, Frittatas, and Other Breakfast Treats
The owner of the Washington, DC-based Countertop Productions, Inc. CakeLove and the former host of the Food Network’s Sugar Rush, Warren Brown is an entrepreneurial icon. Taking an unconventional career path, he left his job as an attorney to pursue his passion: baking cakes.
Brown founded his first bakery, CakeLove, in 2002 and fell in love with a relentless pursuit of perfecting his recipe for success. He is the author of four cookbooks in which he reveals his baking secrets and time saving tips in the kitchen.
Brown continues to innovate in the bakery space to grow his business and influence trends in snacks and packaged desserts. His latest creations are cake in a jar packaged under two different brands CakeLove and Don’t Forget Cake! He also has a line of healthy snacks under the brand Spark Bites. Each are sold through major retailers through the United States.
Warren Brown has been recognized for his entrepreneurial spirit by local and national media including The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show, NPR, CNN, and Inc. magazine. He has been featured in national advertisement campaigns for American Express and in numerous books on career change.
He lives in Washington, DC with his wife and two daughters.